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An oppressive Iowa law

Melvin B. Miller

For some time, political analysts have questioned the rationale for considering the results in the Iowa caucuses as a major indication of the status of candidates to become the nation’s president. Iowa is a small, Midwestern state with a total population of only about 3,118,102. With a white population of 90.6% of the total, it is not racially diverse. And it has only one large city, Des Moines, with a population of 682,877. Iowa is by no means representative of the majority of America’s electorate.

Iowa is also the only state in the union with a lifetime restriction on the right of felons to vote, regardless of the crime for which they were convicted. Some other states have a similar ban only for felons who have been found guilty of particularly heinous crimes. Only Maine and Vermont do not place any limitations on the right to vote because of an individual’s status in the criminal justice system. Even prison inmates are permitted to vote in Maine and Vermont.

In addition to being demographically dissimilar, Iowans support a policy that disproportionately disenfranchises one of the largest voting blocs of the Democratic Party — African American males. According to the Pew Research Center, while the black population in the U.S. was 12% of the total in 2017, blacks accounted for 33% of those in prison. With 1,549 black prisoners for every 100,000 black adults, the imprisonment rate for blacks is nearly six times that for whites.

While the citizens of Iowa cannot be held responsible for the quality of criminal justice in the other 49 states, they should not support a policy that could deprive the vote to others who are now law-abiding. With a black population of only 3.4% in Iowa, the loss of voting rights for black felons is probably not a major issue there. However, much of the history of blacks in America has been a battle for the right to vote. Blacks should stand against any unreasonable disenfranchisement.

If Iowa wants to continue as a respected early primary state, the people should consider the experience of Vermont and Maine on full voting rights, and allow felons to vote.

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